Jacinda Ardern will lead a trade delegation to Australia in early July – the first since the emergence of covid-19.

“I will be looking to further strengthen business ties with our trans-Tasman partners,” she said.

The prime minister made the announcement before some 200 businesspeople in Auckland ahead of next week’s budget.

Ardern said as part of “phase 2” of the covid response plan or “reconnecting our people to the world”, trade minister Damien O’Connor will travel to London and Brussels to progress negotiations for free trade agreements with the UK and EU.

Last week, O’Connor and UK secretary of state for international trade Liz Truss agreed to accelerate negotiations with the UK.

Ardern said O'Connor will be vaccinated before he leaves and do two weeks of managed isolation in what would be a "mystery shopper experience" for the trade minister. 

“I can also assure you that when our key trading partners over and above Australia look to re-open their borders, and we have greater movement between countries, I will look to lead delegations into Europe, the United States, China and the wider Asia-Pacific,” she said at the BusinessNZ function.

The prime minister emphasized that over the next ten months, thousands of skilled and critical workers will get managed isolation spots to support key sectors.

This will include 2,400 seasonal workers to fill horticulture jobs by March next year, 300 key infrastructure workers and 400 international students to support the education sector.

Ardern also said immigration minister Kris Faafoi would next Monday set out "the case for change" in an immigration policy speech. 

She added that in July, the "vaccine rollout fundamentally changes". 

"That is when we take delivery of larger stocks, and can properly ramp up the programme, reaching every New Zealander over the age of 16," she said. 

District health boards are currently finalising the rollout and details will be announced in the weeks following the Budget.
Budget expectations

While the speech was billed as a pre-budget talk, the PM sought to play down expectations for next Thursday.  

“Not all our commitments will be met in this budget. The past three years have demonstrated the benefits of careful management and targeted investment,” she said.

“Budget 2021 will be a continuation of our work to support the recovery, but will see our response become more targeted,” she said.

“We will continue to focus on our key priorities – keeping New Zealanders safe from covid, accelerating the recovery and rebuild, and laying the foundations for the future by addressing long term challenges such as housing, climate change and child wellbeing.”

Finance minister Grant Robertson told BusinessDesk on Thursday he was committed to NZ having lower levels of government borrowing than its rich country peers.

“As a small open economy vulnerable to natural disasters and external shocks, we will inevitably keep our debt a bit lower than the rest of the world,” he said.

Last week, the government’s announcement of a public sector pay freeze drew ire from worker groups. Public services minister Chris Hipkins has since said he would review the government ‘expectations’ on public sector wage restraint next year rather than in 2023, as previously announced.